The prospects of AI for the improvement of education and learning outcomes in Africa are significant. AI enables teacher productivity as it enables them to reach more students via online platforms that are easily customised for each student, as routine tasks like grading and providing feedback are automated, allowing them more time to do those tasks requiring human input exclusively.
African healthcare professionals are increasingly able to do more with less owing to AI as well, a development writ large during the early challenging months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Diagnosis can be done remotely on AI platforms, saving doctors time and allowing them to focus on complex cases for which physical consults are necessary, for which they are also able to collaborate remotely with leading global consultants and surgeons in real time when cases warrant it.
Using mobile metadata, Singapore’s Credolab uses AI to provide alternative credit scoring services to financial institutions in a number of African markets such as South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana, where lenders hitherto struggled to get credit scores
AI is also helping banks assess credit-worthiness of their customers – particularly small depositors and small businesses – much more efficiently. FinTech firms, for instance, are able to do reasonably accurate credit scoring by feeding alternative data points into AI, allowing banks to provide credit to the once financially excluded.
AI is also transforming smallholder agriculture by providing real-time data on soil conditions, seeds, pesticides, and spot prices. AI could also help make Africa’s transportation systems safer, efficient and less chaotic.
AI in African manufacturing is controversial, however, as workers fear losing jobs to automation, even as it promises to make it far more productive. But at the end of the day, AI will fail to make impact in Africa unless the continent can nuture more AI talent, fix its legacy infrastructure problems, and strengthen its institutions.
Singapore-Africa AI partnership
Singapore, which is promoting the responsible development of AI, and was the first Asian country to establish a governance framework for AI, is an exemplar and a more appropriate archetype for Africa.
Singapore was ranked the smartest city in the world in the IMD SCO Smart City Observatory Smart City Index 2021, and has ranked highest since 2019. ‘Smart cities’ leverage on digital technologies to improve the quality of life of their dwellers.
They rely on AI and other digital technologies to maintain and upgrade infrastructure and provide public services to improve performance and reduce costs. Thankfully, a budding partnership between Singapore and Africa is beginning to emerge over AI.
Take for instance Singapore-based Terra AI. It is working with Senegalese tech startup incubator CTIC Dakar and Kenya’s Cliniq to provide AI training programmes. Singaporean blockchain technology firm InfoCorp is working with Kenya’s Lofte Kesho to tokenise livestock and thus facilitate financial inclusion.
When Covid-19 struck and the South African government needed a tech solution for contact tracing, it turned to Singapore-based AI firm Sqreem Technologies to help build a Covid-19 tracking and tracing platform. Sqreem is now adapting AI for the financial services, defence and auto industries.
Using mobile metadata, Singapore’s Credolab uses AI to provide alternative credit scoring services to financial institutions in a number of African markets such as South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana, where lenders hitherto struggled to get credit scores for as much as 70 percent of their customers.
In August 2021, Singapore’s leading AI and big data firm Crayon Data announced it was expanding into South Africa by partnering with a local tech firm Falcorp Technologies that is helping banks provide more personalised customer experiences through the use of AI.
But all of this is scratching the surface. There exists far more room for collaboration and partnerships between Singaporean and African AI firms. As in the case of Sqreem, applications developed in one African market – accidental or otherwise – could easily be adapted for others.
African governments see in Singapore a model to create smart cities and a gold standard when it comes to AI policy formulation and governance.
Africa’s underrepresentation in global AI provides an opportunity for Asian firms to tap business. Thus far, China has taken the lead but technologically advanced and exceptionally experimentative Singapore is not that far behind.
Its AI governance standards, thought leadership, and tech know-how can help Africa bridge the gap. There is plenty of untapped business opportunities for Singaporean firms in Africa in this space. All that is required is the willingness to explore, invest and take risk.
An edited version of this article was first published by Nanyang Business School’s
NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, Singapore.